I had a birthday last week and I’ve decided that I need a sign.
Maybe, if I wear a sign, it will prevent the bullying. The “do you really think you need that piece of cake?” that the woman at a friend’s wedding felt it was entirely her right to say to me, while I was (sound the alarms!) eating cake with the rest of the guests.
In fairness to her, I don’t look like someone who exercises most days every week.
In other words: I don’t look like someone who deserves cake. (Cake is to be earned, defended, and rationed, I have learned). So, I figure I need to wear a sign.
I wasn’t an overweight child or teenager. But, since adulthood, I’ve grown chubby. Sometimes, I’m really fat. Morbidly Obese, the medical charts say. Morbid, oh yes indeedy, that’s how I have felt.
Even at my fittest and most cake-less, I have flab under my arms and my chin. I’m tall and I take up considerable space. My belly sticks out and I have a very pronounced bottom. Obvious also, to anyone who has worked with or befriended me for over a decade, I have a difficult relationship with food. Sadly, I think it’s the dominating relationship of my life and it makes my weight oscillate visibly and dramatically. Some years, I’m up by 80-100 pounds. Other years, I’m down by the same amount.
At both ends of that deserving or not deserving cake spectrum, I don’t look like someone who sweats through cardio and weight training and biking and running and metabolic resistance and blah, blah, blah exercises for an hour, most days, every week. Because exercise-surely regular exercise–makes you healthy.
But, I don’t always look healthy. I don’t look like a regular exerciser.
For a Capital P-People-Pleaser like me, that really hurts.
You see, I have been programmed–by family, by society, by myself–to equate (low) weight with worth. And not only that, but I am continuously getting bombarded with the message that (low) weight equals health.
Famous people have commented about the maximum size of a woman’s waist being important for health and that to put a plus-size model on the cover of a magazine, as Sports Illustrated did recently, is to “glorify” obesity and ignore its health consequences. There is, in this commentary on women’s “health”, however, no mention of a minimum size of a woman’s waist or the very life-threatening consequences of anorexia that comes from glorifying women (or y’know, any humans) who weigh far too little. Yet, we have done that without any mention of “health” for decades.
I find this oversight interesting. (And when, I am interested, I feel I deserve cake.)
But, not yet.
First, I keep exercising. I keep losing and gaining dramatic amounts of weight. I want to deserve the piece of cake. I want to be healthy. No, actually, I want to LOOK like someone who others think is healthy. Because, that’s what seems to count when I’m eating the cake at a wedding.
Sometimes, I admit to getting discouraged. I stop the exercise for a while. “Why bother?” I fume, “You don’t get credit for exercising, by yourself, where no one can see you or compliment your race time. What matters is what you weigh.”
I gnash my teeth and I forget How Far I’ve Come.
When I can muffle the nasty voices in my head (and those of rude wedding guests), I am surprised to realize that How Far I’ve Come with exercise is not about what I weigh anymore.
How Far I’ve Come is that in recent years, I have started to motivate myself to exercise with different goals than weight loss or a feeling that I need to earn my cake. I have a chronic fainting syndrome for which I take daily medication and modify my lifestyle (no alcohol, caffeine, late nights or excitement–surely, I deserve cake!) With my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, I look like a super athlete on paper.
Famous TV doctors would be so pleased.
But, they wouldn’t declare me “healthy” because I have trouble dieting as it tends to make me faint. And modern-day-defined-by-media-sound-bytes health is apparently not about all the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, it is apparently only about weight. Weight trumps ALL. And, I’m not thin. I’m just naturally zombie-like with blue fingernails and a tendency to swoon. The walking half-dead, as it were.
So, lose weight, I must.
I’m very good at it. I hope you’ll agree that 80+ pounds lost is an impressive achievement. Especially when it’s been accomplished several times. Exercise has made me dramatically thinner sometimes. But, so many pounds lost has also sometimes made me forget How Far I’ve Come.
In the beginning, being a fainter made exercise really scary because when my heart started beating really fast and the pulse pounded in my ears, it felt alarmingly similar to what happens just before I skid, unconscious, across my bedroom carpet on my face and end up with an oozing forehead abrasion the size of a cookie (mmmm: cookies.) But, Practical Man (who cleans up the mess that is me and the carpet in the middle of the night) and I believe that exercising actually increases my tolerance against fainting. We think it helps my cardiac and nervous systems get used to being pushed and they learn not to react quite so dramatically at the slightest assault.
I faint far less frequently than I used to. I am healthier–even when my bum won’t always fit into the XL pants.
But, I continue to ignore How Far I’m Come re exercise when I forget that I have adapted exercise in recent years to help me cope with chronic vertigo (a sensation that the room is spinning very rapidly around me). I have to be very careful how I hold my head or move my eyes. I can’t do most yoga poses. I sleep sitting partially up and elbow Practical Man in the forehead when I roll my eyes the wrong way during a dream and everything spins violently. I can’t let my body escape completely in dance, in the ways that I used to. My balance problems have reached a place that I can’t walk quietly around my neighbourhood with a friend, without sweating profusely and feeling as if I have just disembarked from a boat on rocky seas. But, I’ve learned to exercise despite my fear of triggering an intense spinning episode that can last weeks or even months.
I can do it, even though I have to be careful. In this way, exercise has made me braver, which I think is healthier–whether or not my maximum waist size meets a former super model’s approval.
I’m also minimizing How Far I’ve Come with exercise when I overlook that nowadays, I exercise to reduce the chronic pain I have when I move my left eye. I take medications and vitamins and see specialists to try to solve the mystery of what causes only one of my eyes to hurt with every glance and feel as if it’s boring its way into my brain. The working theories so far have been serious and even life-threatening possibilities. But, I have learned that exercising produces endorphins that give me a few minutes or half an hour of all-natural pain relief. I can look around “recklessly” without it hurting for a while.
Such a blessing that I never knew exercise could give. I thought it was all about making me allowed to eat cake but, no. Exercise makes me happier to live for a while without pain and healthier–even though I still have double chins.
Most of all, I realize How Far I’ve Come because even when my thighs rub together with every kilometre I clock, exercising makes me feel strong. Even without losing a pound or an inch, the deep breathing and physical release is a boost to my mental health. It reminds me that even though I am a fainting, spinning, eyeball aching sicko, I am also brave, strong and capable of valuing myself for more than my size.
Yep, I had a birthday last week and there are so many interesting things to do and contribute and learn in life. I am dealing with–and may be facing more-chronic or serious illness. And, with all my health issues — with all that doesn’t work in my body, with all that I continue to try, I want to appreciate my body for what it lets me do, not what shape it has.
So, keep your pursed lips and disapproving eyes to yourself, rude wedding lady. Ditto to you famous people commenting on things under the dubious label of “health“.
But, staying in that, ahem, healthy head space–where I can believe that I deserve to have my cake and eat it like everyone else–will continue to be difficult.
We live in a world where instead of worrying about how our bodies are FUNCTIONING and CONTRIBUTING and LOVING, we are bombarded with messages that tell us that the only thing that really counts is how our bodies are LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING.
Because if we don’t focus on the LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING – well, then, we’re obviously not healthy.
And since health is something that apparently can be measured simply by glancing at someone, that means that anyone can–ahem–weigh in on our right to cake, or to be on the cover of a magazine.
I say that’s a sign that needs changing.